A group of Saddle Brook pre-schoolers were enjoying a late morning outside when out-of-control SUV crashed through their playground fence barely 50 feet away.
The large Chevrolet Suburban, driven by an off-duty Saddle Brook police officer, then hit a tree and slammed into the Washington School building.
“The terror on those children’s faces I can never put into words,” one parent said.
“Any of us could [have] been planning a funeral right now,” said another.
Officer Matthew Benus, 52, suffered a medical episode and passed out before Thursday's crash at Market and West streets around 11 a.m., authorities said. Benus, who’s approaching his 30th year with the department, wasn’t serious injured, they said. Nor was anyone else.
What could have happened has some parents still shaking.
Two aides who were there got the kids away from danger, one said.
“Another teacher finally opened up the side door and we got the kids in safely,” she wrote.
“I’m surprised a child wasn’t injured,” the parent added. “I even looked under the truck to make sure a child was not underneath....I couldn’t even get myself together to work after that, I was so shaken up. I was so scared for the children.”
Another parent questioned why the community wasn’t told exactly what had happened.
An “emergency closing” message went out from the school not even a half-hour after the crash saying that “all children are safe but there is an emergency in the building and we have to cancel afternoon sessions. We will dismiss from the parking lot side of the building. Thank you.”
The mom said she should’ve been notified directly because her 3-year-old was in the playground “and saw the whole accident.”
“All children’s parents should have been called,” she added, “but the class of the parents [whose] kids were in the playground should have been called first.”
Instead, she said, she showed up at the school to find a crash scene.
School staff told her they tried calling several times, the mom said, but she insisted there’s no record of missed calls or voicemails on her phone.
“What if my son is scarred for what he had seen??? Where is the crisis team?” she asked. “For bad weather and early dismissal don’t they call us? ”
“I am so happy all our babies and kids are safe and thankful of staff for keeping our kids safe but this shouldn’t have occurred this way.”
District officials couldn't immediately be reached on Saturday.
Daily Voice first learned of the incident from citizens late Friday afternoon.
Saddle Brook police referred questions to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.
The prosecutor’s office had taken control of the department's day-to-day operations in March after charging Chief Robert Kugler with ordering on-duty police officers to conduct escorts for his funeral business using department vehicles. That case is still pending.
An assistant Bergen County prosecutor said late Friday that there was no wrongdoing involved in what was a single-vehicle accident on Thursday.
Because it involved a municipal police officer, however, procedure requires that the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office file the accident report to avoid any appearance or possibility of conflict.
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